Posts Tagged ‘pacifism’

Men are not defective women

August 31, 2015

Over five years ago, between Thanksgiving and Christmas of 2009, my family and I were victims of a stalker. I’ll spare you the details except to say that it culminated late one night when I heard someone on our front porch. (Fortunately, my family was out of town at a family Christmas party in Florida.) I caught a glimpse of the man through our bay window and called 9-1-1. After the man disappeared down the driveway, I saw that he had left several sexually explicit notes and drawings on our garage door and front porch. He had also scattered several unopened condoms on our porch.

After about 10 minutes, sheriff’s deputies arrived. After gathering evidence and taking my statement—they already a “file” on this man, since we had called them after an earlier incident—they tried unsuccessfully to track him with a K-9 unit.

When they left, I was scared—I’ll be honest. But the next morning, despite my fear, I was on a mission: I canvassed the neighborhood. I knocked on doors of neighbors, most of whom I’d never met, informing them about what happened, asking if they saw anything suspicious and would they keep on the lookout for this man?

At one house, a man answered the door who looked like the man I’d glimpsed through the window. I did a double-take. Naturally, he denied knowing anything. But when I left, I called the sheriff’s office. I later identified him in a photo lineup. After a couple of days, they interviewed him, he confessed, and he was arrested. Within a couple of months, the case was adjudicated. He got probation with mandatory therapy. We got a permanent protective order against him.

As I learned from talking to neighbors, my experience with the man was only the latest and most extreme episode in a 20-year history of threatening, and escalating, acts against his neighbors.

Through this experience, I learned something about myself: This is what being a man feels like—this righteous anger, this desire to protect my family, this small measure of courage I summoned. And it felt good. 

Any sympathy I felt at that point toward Stanley Hauerwas’s brand of Christian pacifism evaporated: I would resort to violence—without apology—if it meant protecting people I love. I don’t believe, contrary to years of indoctrination at liberal mainline seminary, that the example or teachings of Jesus preclude justifiable violence. I believe they require it—for individuals, municipalities, and nations.

I thought of this experience a couple of weeks ago, when those three Americans intervened, unarmed, to protect a train-load of passengers bound for Paris from a Moroccan terrorist. It was an inspiring act of heroism that I hope I would emulate if I were in similar circumstances. Regardless, if Hauerwas is right—and there are many Methodist clergy who believe that he is—these three men were wrong to use force to stop this man on the principle that any resort to violence contradicts Jesus’ teaching to “turn the other cheek.” They should instead have let the man shoot up the train and accept their own deaths as a witness to the non-coercive love of God.

I know… this seems incomprehensible to me, too.

Regardless, I appreciate this blog post from Owen Strachan about the men’s courage and its application to contemporary manhood.

Teach a boy that he is an idiot, that he can only ever ascend to Fantasy Football champion, that he cannot ever measure up to his sisters, that he is at base an animal, and watch in wonder as he fulfills all your worst predictions.

But teach him that he has immense dignity and worth, that he was made — whatever his chest size, whatever his height — to spend himself for the good of others, and you will form the kind of young men who do not cower when a terrorist stands up, sweating and fevered, to fulfill Allah’s will by mowing down innocents. This kind of young man wakes up from his nap, sees bloodshed on the horizon, and moves with a swiftness he has trained for to sacrifice himself for others. He may die, he knows. But he will die with honor.

With some irony, I post this recent song by singer-songwriter Neko Case. No, she’s not a man, regardless how she was raised. But the song rightly recognizes that there is a difference between women and men. It resonates with me.

Last thoughts (this week) on Christian pacifism

February 25, 2015

A few weeks ago I heard a new argument for changing our United Methodist Church’s stance on human sexuality. It wasn’t a good argument, mind you, but it was one I hadn’t heard before. I reflected on it in this blog post. A United Methodist pastor in Birmingham named Wade Griffith applied Jesus’ words in John 16:12-13 to our sexuality debate: Jesus said, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.”

One of the “many things” that Jesus still had to say to us, the church, was that homosexual practice—at least in the context of committed, monogamous, lifelong relationships—was blessed by God. God’s attitude toward homosexual practice wasn’t different back then; it’s only that the idea was so radical that no one back then could have handled it. So, by Griffith’s logic, first Jesus and later the Holy Spirit waited until the sexual revolution of the late-twentieth century had sufficiently prepared the world—at least the wealthy Western industrialized part—for this previously radical idea.

The Holy Spirit, said Griffith, waited until the right time…

As I wrote in the blog post:

But the Spirit didn’t wait, did he? Because within 20 years of Jesus’ words in John 16, this same Spirit—the very Spirit of Christ, who makes Christ present to us, who reminds us of Christ’s teaching and how to apply it to our lives—inspired Paul to tell us through scripture that homosexual behavior contradicts God’s intentions for humanity.

Did the Spirit not know back then, when Paul was writing the so-called “clobber verses,” how confusing Paul’s words would later prove to be for Christians? Couldn’t the Spirit at least have had Paul remain silent on the subject? Or did the Holy Spirit really have so little to do with producing the canon of scripture?

My point is this: Griffith’s argument falls victim to the idea that the revelation of God in Christ is different, even at times opposed, to the revelation of God in holy scripture.

How can an evangelical committed to the authority of scripture endorse this line of reasoning?

Yet, in my own way, I was unconsciously accepting its premise in my previous blog post (and comment section) regarding Stanley Hauerwas’s view (by way of Kevin Hargaden) of “Christological non-violence.”

In distinguishing Hauerwas’s pacifism from secular pacifism, Kevin writes, “Christological non-violence is different from generic pacifism because it holds that Jesus, not war (or its absence), is the centre of ethical reality.”

In other words, our basis for rejecting war in all cases—not to mention (although Kevin never does) any violent police action, and, indeed, any violent action to defend our families or ourselves—is Christ’s own teaching and example, not our commitment to non-violence, per se.

As an evangelical, I could almost accept that principle if I believed that Jesus taught that Christians can never resort to violence as part of a military, a police force, or in an effort to defend themselves or their families.

I say “almost” because I’d have to interpret Jesus’ words and actions against other passages in scripture, including Jesus’ unqualified praise of the Roman centurion as a paragon of Christian faith, or Peter’s uncritical acceptance of centurion Cornelius in Acts 10, or Paul’s words about the state’s “sword” being a “minister of God” in Romans 13. I would then avail myself of Christian tradition: how did the saints of the past interpret these verses, and were they, as a result, pacifists?

By the way, when it comes to tradition, I always assume, as a rule of thumb, that I’m not morally superior to the Christian saints on whose shoulders I stand. Even if I were a Christian pacifist, it wouldn’t be because I’m smarter or more virtuous than, say, Augustine, who most assuredly wasn’t a pacifist. If the case for Christian pacifism were as easy and obvious as some Christians today seem to make it, then what does that say about Augustine?

I know that there are arguments from scripture and tradition to be made for pacifism. I don’t find them convincing, but they can be made. But I wonder if Hauerwas’s “Christological non-violence” isn’t an ethical principle that he believes is embedded in the life, suffering, and death of Christ, which supersedes any argument from scripture, even where it contradicts the direct words of scripture.

If so, you can count me out. Christological non-violence must be an argument, first, from scripture, all of whose words are a gift from the very Spirit of Christ to us. It’s incomprehensible to me that Christ would teach something (through his words and actions) that the Spirit would contradict when the Spirit inspired these biblical writers to write these words. This is yet another application of that badly distorted “Jesus lens” I’ve written about before.

While we’re on the subject, Dr. Glenn Peoples, a theologian from New Zealand, applauds his government’s decision to send members of the New Zealand Defence Force to Iraq to train Iraqi troops in their fight against ISIS. His thoughts on the subject reflect mine. Follow the links below on Christian pacifism and “Turn the other cheek.” Among other things, he writes (emphasis mine):

“But Christians should be pacifists!”

No they shouldn’t. I know that some say that Christianity was universally a pacifist movement (a movement that taught that there is never any justification for the use of force against others) until bad people like Augustine came along and corrupted the church with the doctrine of the just war. The kindest thing to say about this is that it is an oversimplification, but the ordinary way of describing this is as a lie. There existed pacifists among the Church Fathers, but as I have explained before, the evidence does not support the claim that they were all pacifists up to the time of Augustine. “Turn the other cheek,” some say. “Learn what that means,” I say in reply.) For those interested, I discussed this issue, albeit briefly, on a panel for Elephant TV, and that discussion is available on Youtube (I do not know for how long it will be available).

We must confront IS, not because we hate them, but because we love those who are in the firing line.

Certainly, Christian reflection on vengeance, violence and hatred (and love!) should feed into our thinking about what the right response to IS looks like. But the result of such thinking does not push us to pacifism. Engaging with IS need not be about hatred at all, but about love. It is one thing for people to say “love your enemy,” as though acting against IS must be viewed as contrary to love. But what does it mean to love those who are left at the mercy of IS if the world does not intervene? What kind of false piety is it that would say to them, “although we could intervene to protect you, our love for those who are about to cut off your heads prevents us from doing so. PTL.” If I were more of a mocking person (I am sometimes, but this is too serious to engage in such triviality), there would be an exposed target in the attitude that calls on men, women and children to lie down and die so that we can keep our halo untarnished. We must confront IS, not because we hate them, but because we love those who are in the firing line.

Does the cross mean a nation shouldn’t go to war?

February 20, 2015

I am not a pacifist. Even in the depths of my Candler-inspired apostasy from orthodox Christianity many years ago, I never completely made the leap that thinkers like Stanley Hauerwas wanted me to make: to extend Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount against personal vengeance (“turn the other cheek”) to a complete rejection of violence in the cause of justice in the world.

Even when I was reading Hauerwas in Christian ethics class (taught by a professor who himself wasn’t a pacifist, but a proponent of “just war” theory), I thought Hauerwas’s was a cheap kind of pacifism. After all, Durham, North Carolina, isn’t exactly Rwanda!

No… Even then I thought that Hauerwas’s pacifism freeloads off a police force and a military that he doesn’t support except, presumably, through his taxes—which, by the way, are ultimately paid at gunpoint. Not that you’ll hear me complain. I’m merely pointing out that the rule of law and our systems of government and justice—far from perfect though they are—are made possible in part by the use of coercive, sometimes lethal, force. From Hauerwas’s perspective, this kind of force is never Christianly permissible because God, he says, is perfect non-coercive love.

Good thing so many heathens in our country disagree with him!

Even many years ago, I saw this inconsistency. Today, I have the Bible.

Which is why I can’t go along with Christian blogger Zack Hunt when he argues that the cross of Christ means that we as a nation shouldn’t use force to stop ISIS terrorists from continuing to do what they did last weekend—beheading 21 Egyptian Christians because they were Christians—and have done with too little resistance across Iraq and Syria: murder indigenous Christian and other minority religious populations.

Hunt writes:

No matter how righteous our cause may be, as Christians the cross remains in front of us a stumbling block on the path to vengeance. Which, I think, is why so many of us in the Church are so willing to go out of our way to justify our dismissal of the cross as a way of life. Killing our enemies is just easier. It’s quicker and more satisfying than finding a non-violent solution. And it doesn’t require the struggle that comes along with loving and forgiving people that want us dead.

Why is military intervention necessarily a “path to vengeance” rather than a path to justice and, yes, love? Is it not loving to intervene, even with violence, to prevent violent men from murdering unarmed civilians when we have the power to do so? If we would support a similar police action within the borders of our state or municipality, by what logic would we oppose it outside of our borders? Because we don’t love non-Americans as much? That hardly seems Christian, either.

If you want to argue that intervening militarily is wrong because it would only lead to more violence and bloodshed, that’s fine… But it’s also a pragmatic and utilitarian consideration. No one ought to support Christian pacifism because it works! We’re talking principles here: we don’t resort to violence because, Christian pacifists say, the cross of Christ proves it’s wrong, not because it doesn’t work.

That’s what Hauerwas would say, and I’m sure Hunt would agree. Except, surely he’s being inconsistent when he says this: “Killing our enemies is just easier. It’s quicker and more satisfying than finding a non-violent solution.”

So there is a non-violent solution, he says, it’s just a matter of working harder to find one? We resort to violence out of laziness—because it’s “easier”? In other words, he says we should be pacifists because pacifism works. “All we are saying is give peace a chance.” In meantime, how many people will die?

Besides, who is he to say that “killing our enemies” is easier? Our troops put their lives on the line—indeed, sacrifice their lives—in order to save the lives of the weak and innocent. “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

Hunt speaks of vengeance, but why would that necessarily be our motivation to intervene militarily? I would be happy for our troops to swoop in and arrest all the terrorists without firing a single shot so long as it stopped their campaign of murder. But I’m pretty sure that ISIS wouldn’t “come out with their hands up.”

Hunt writes: “Paul, of course, famously echoed Jesus’ call to the cruciform life, declaring in Philippians 2 that as his followers, our lives should be like that of Christ who emptied himself, took on the form of a slave, humbled himself, and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.”

This same Paul wrote, in Romans 13, that God’s duly appointed ruler “does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.

The point is, both Jesus and Paul speak against personal vengeance, not against a nation’s justifiable use of violent force. Indeed, as Paul says, such violence accomplishes God’s will.

As for God’s use of violence, see, for instance, this post. God’s love often is coercive, as it will be, especially, in final judgment.

Breaking news: The pope is now a pacifist. Or not.

September 12, 2013

Newly elected Pope Francis, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina waves as he leaves after praying at basilica in RomeAn Italian woman named Anna Romano recently got pregnant out of wedlock. The father, who was married with child, pressured her to have an abortion, and she refused. She wrote to Pope Francis earlier this year describing her life and her brave decision not to have an abortion. Last week, the pope called her out of the blue and said that he would personally baptize her child after she gives birth.

It’s easy to admire this pope deeply as a man. He has a great heart.

So far, however, when he speaks theologically, it’s hard not to wonder where his head is.

I blogged about the confusing way he used the word “redemption” in a homily he delivered a while back. This week, in a similarly conciliatory but theologically muddled way, he implied that God will even forgive atheists so long as they abide by their consciences.

Or maybe he didn’t imply that. As my friend Kevin helpfully reminded me, he said in the same op-ed that forgiveness comes to those who repent with a sincere and contrite heart.

I don’t count on the press to get the theological nuances right. And I suspect Pope Francis doesn’t, either, which is why, so far in his papacy, he’s enjoyed great publicity: he gets to have his cake and eat it too. Regardless, if the incident regarding his redemption homily is any guide, I’m sure the Vatican is already drafting some clarifying statement to say that the pope didn’t mean quite what many people thought he meant.

The pope also made news last week by mentioning Syria in a homily, saying, “War always marks the failure of peace” (which is true by definition, a tautology). “It is always a defeat for humanity.” (True enough, in that it wouldn’t happen in the first place if humanity were in harmony with God and one another—if we weren’t sinners.)

But he overstates his case when he says, “Violence and war are never the way to peace!”

Really? Never? He’s contradicting his own church’s tradition of “just war” principles when he says this.

Like it or not, violence and war are the way to peace and justice sometimes. Not perfect peace and not perfect justice, both of which will never be accomplished on this side of resurrection. But peace and justice borne by violence and war are sometimes better than any conceivable alternative.

Surely the pope knows this. Or is he really saying that pacifism is now the only path that leads to peace? If so, he’s fortunate to live in Western Europe, where the doctrine won’t be put to the test any time soon! Besides, even the Vatican has the Swiss Guard. Even in their silly uniforms, they look well-prepared to throw a punch or wrestle someone to the ground. And surely they can do so without violating Jesus’ words about “turning the other cheek.”

The problem with pacifism is not that you get to oppose violent intervention in Syria or Iraq, but that you must also oppose it, for example, to prevent further genocide in places like Darfur or Rwanda. You must oppose violent force by your local police—including even tasers and billy clubs—not to mention violent force in your own home, even to defend the lives of your family.

Do we really believe that violence is never the path to peace? Does the pope?

Even if he’s saying that, he’s not really saying that, as some Vatican press flunky will surely point out.

Anyway, I’ll leave it to Cranmer’s satirical blog, and this sharp post from the Rev. Dr. Peter Mullen, to put the pope’s remarks in historical perspective:

I perceive that this Pope of Rome hath departed so far from true doctrine as to stand in the following of Renaissance Humanism and that moreover he hath fallen in with the Pelagian or Manichæan thing which saith that acts be morally right or wrong in themselves without reference to the intention applied thereof. One might as well say, Your Grace, that the very stones are capable of palpable evil without there be any man which chucketh them.

Wherefrom cometh this worldly doctrine except it be a following after the fashion of the secular sort, of the unilateralism of them which do cloke their self-righteousness under the veil of pacifism and peacenickery? By the which the widow and the orphan go all unprotected and the innocent are preyed upon by the malice of our enemies.

As thou knowest also, and for which we daily thank Our Father in heaven, The Pope of Rome hath no jurisdiction in this realm of England.